The murder of a 14-year-old environmentalist in Colombia has been described as futile and pure evil by his friends and family.
Breiner David Cucuñame was shot while on patrol with the Kiwes or the Indigenous Guard, an organisation formed by men, women and children that seeks to protect indigenous communities in the country’s troubled southwestern region of Cauca.
Colombia has become the most dangerous country in the world for environmental activists, with those protecting indigenous land particularly at risk.
“He was like any other teenager,” his father, Samuel Cucuñame told the Sunday Telegraph. “But he was passionate about protecting our land.”
Although the motive for Breiner’s killing has not been officially confirmed, his father says the patrol to which he and his son belonged discovered a hideout of dissident FARC rebels.
“We had asked them to leave several times before,” he said. “But this time they just opened fire.”
Breiner was taken to hospital, but died from his injuries hours later.
“They killed a defenceless teenager, a boy who wanted to protect the forest, the mountains and stop the pollution of water. It breaks my heart,” said Mr Cucuñame.
Last year, death threats made against 12-year-old environmentalist Francisco Vera made headlines around the world.
Francisco is a well-known environmentalist and defender of Colombia’s extraordinary biodiversity that stretches from the high Andes to the Caribbean and Pacific coasts.
He uses his social media profiles, which have thousands of followers, to campaign against fracking and mining – particularly in Andean moorland. His Twitter account marked the death of fellow activist Breiner with a simple tear emoji.
Colombia is home to 2.3 million indigenous people, who occupy a third of the country’s land. This often remote territory is prized turf for organised criminal groups, who seek to traffic drugs under the radar of the authorities. The country’s natural resources are also regularly exploited by criminals, who seek to make profit from illegal gold, emeralds and logging. Their cocaine laboratories and makeshift mining pollute rivers and water supplies with toxic chemicals.
President Iván Duque said the death of young Breiner filled the country with sadness, but critics say he will leave office later this year with environmental activist killings having more than doubled during his term.
The government denies accusations from indigenous leaders that it is not doing enough to protect them. Last year, President Duque ordered the deployment of 2,500 élite troops to take on dissident FARC insurgents in Cauca, but the vast majority of activist murders are very rarely brought to justice.
“I will move heaven and earth to find those responsible for killing my son,” said Mr Cucuñame. “There is nothing more terrifying than the wrath of a grieving parent.”